Thursday, June 20, 2024

UNGA president asks members to overcome ‘perpetual stalemate’ on Security Council reforms via dialogue

UN General Assembly President Dennis Francis has appealed to members of the world body to overcome the perpetual stalemate on Security Council reform through good faith dialogue.

“While conflicts seem to be spreading the globe, the Security Council — whose primary responsibility is to maintain international peace and security –however, seems caught in a concerning state of paralysis”, he said on Wednesday at a roundtable of Global South think tanks on Council reform.

Therefore, the Council “is perceived as falling short of its mandate – consequently, compromising the credibility of the entire UN itself”, he said.

“We need a Council that is more balanced, more representative, more responsive, more democratic, and more transparent.”

For reforms to take place, member countries have “to overcome entrenched positions” through “genuine and good faith dialogue”, the UNGA chief added.

“Our objective must be to find and/or create ways to move beyond a perpetual stalemate.”

The Council reform process has been in a state of stalemate for about two decades because of opposition from a small group of countries that use procedural gambits to block reform.

The roundtable was organised by L.69, a group of over 30 countries from around the world advocating for Security Council reform in cooperation with India’s UN Mission.

India’s Permanent Representative Ruchira Kamboj called the current structure of the Council an anachronism that is “failing to adapt to the seismic shifts in international relations over the past decades”.

The predominance of the countries of the Global North in the permanent membership of the Council, she said, is “a vestige of a colonial past” and it must change to “resonate with the current geopolitical dynamics”.

“The Council must not only expand, but also democratise ensuring that non-permanent members [also] have a substantive role in decision-making processes.

“As we represent the Global South, our demand is not merely for representation but for equitable participation in decisions that directly impact our regions,” she added.

Referring to the inclusion of the African Union in the G20 at the initiative of India when it held the presidency of the group of major economies, Kamboj said: “This progress at the G20 level must be mirrored in the UN Security Council, where broader representation is essential for the body’s effectiveness and credibility.”

Austria’s Permanent Representative Alexander Marschik, who is the co-chair of the Intergovernmental negotiations (IGN) for Council reforms, said that there “is a lot of convergence around the idea that the Global South voice in the Security Council needs to be strengthened”.

Observer Research Foundation President Samir Saran, who moderated the roundtable said that in contemplating reforms, “we must rethink how the General Assembly must exert itself and must have an ability to rectify the perversions of the Council”.

He said that in the current set-up, the Assembly has a subordinate role to the Council, an anomaly which would be akin to a corporation where the shareholders report to the board of directors.

Sceptics may say that the world is too polarised for Council reforms, but the nuclear nonproliferation architecture was produced in the last century “at times that were terribly fraught”.

“Perhaps it is times like these that must convince us to dedicate ourselves to finding that new format and that new framework that works,” he said.

Now is a “new moment where countries from the global south developing countries are finding it important to voice their demands on multilateral institutions on multilateral systems” he said.

Oliver Stuenkel, a professor at the School of International Relations at Fundacao Getulio Vargas in Brazil, said that the inclusion of the African Union in the G20 under India’s presidency “is perhaps a good example of how reform is possible”.

“History shows us that sweeping reform tends to occur after traumatic, catastrophic international events.”

Looking at the contemporary global situation, he asked: “Is reform possible at a moment when there is a sense of crisis, but it’s a creeping crisis.”

Therefore, “the challenge is to pursue and achieve reform in the absence of that (type of intense crisis)” before it strikes.

“We cannot wait for something similar to happen” although “we are in many ways in what some call a poly-crisis, complexity [on an] unprecedented scale” with the current global conflicts at the highest level in three decades, he said.

He said that “innovative proposals like the capacity of the UN General Assembly to override a (Council) veto with a two-thirds majority” could be considered as they “basically sidestep this inherent difficulty of the question should new members of the UN Security Council have a veto”.

“So this would be perhaps an elegant way to overcome the difficulties that membership reform inherently poses as we face this problem of the frozen composition of the Council.”

Sithembile Mbete, programmes director at Futurelect in South Africa, said that it was a historical injustice that “about 50 per cent of the Council’s meetings and 70 per cent of its resolutions, concern African conflicts, and yet Africa does not have a permanent seat, when we only have three non-permanent seats”.

She said that the African consensus is for the continent to have two permanent seats on the Council and five non-permanent seats.

“African states, in principle, are opposed to the veto but they argue that for as long as it exists, as a matter of common justice, it should be made available to all permanent members of the Council. “

O. Osaghae, the director-general Institute of International Relations in Lagos, said that Council reform is a continuation of the decolonisation process.

He said that the countries of the Globa North “have monopolised more or less the critical committees” of the Council dealing with peace and security.

For instance, France has virtually monopolised peacekeeping operations, and Britain, humanitarian affairs, Osaghae said.

“These things need to be reviewed, so that we can, you know, all of us, have a wider context for putting issues on the table.”

(Arul Louis can be contacted at arul.l@ians.in and followed at @arulouis)

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